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Soaring grocery costs led a modest rise in region's consumer price index

Meat prices at local grocers rose as meat

Meat prices at local grocers rose as meat processing plants in the middle of the country shut down after workers came down with COVID-19. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Grocery prices in the metropolitan area rose a whopping 7.1% last month compared with a year ago on the higher cost of meat, poultry, fish, eggs and milk during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said the rise in food-at-home prices was in sharp contrast with May’s 1.4% increase, year over year, in its consumer price index for the 25-county region that includes Long Island. Food costs are included in the index, according to the bureau’s chief regional economist Martin Kohli.

The index’s annual gains have been declining generally since January’s 2.5%.

Among the six grocery categories, three posted higher price rises in May compared with a year ago than the 7.1% increase in groceries generally. The meat, poultry, fish, and eggs category climbed 13.9%; dairy and related products, 9.2% and nonalcoholic beverages, 8.7%.

Slaughter houses and meat processing plants in the middle of the country shut down after large numbers of workers were diagnosed with COVID-19.

Restaurant meals increased 3.7% last month compared with May 2019.

“Before the pandemic, restaurant prices were increasing more rapidly than the price of store-bought food largely due to rising wages for restaurant workers,” said Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington think tank.

The cost of recreation rose sharply to 10.7%.

These increases were partially offset by a 28.3% drop in gasoline prices, year over year, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other governors ordered people to stay at home for weeks to slow the virus’ spread.

The cost of automobile insurance fell 10.5% in May compared with a year ago. Baker said the decline “reflects rebates that most insurers are giving customers due to the fact that accidents have sharply fallen as a result of less driving during the shutdowns.”

Housing and medicine prices increased at about the same annual rate as before the coronavirus outbreak, 2% and 5.3%, respectively.

PAYING MORE FOR GROCERIES

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said grocery prices rose 7.1% last month compared with May 2019. Here's a breakdown of the year-over-increases:

•Meats, poultry, fish and eggs - 13.9%

•Dairy and related products - 9.2%

•Nonalcoholic beverages - 8.7%

•Other food at home - 5.8%

•Fruits and vegetables - 3.2%

•Cereals and baked goods - 0.8%

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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